Skip to Content

Bellicose bullying or lessons from history? Take your pick

At the same time as the Tory party is shamed by the tragic suicide of a young activist, their leader doesn’t fail to pull out all the bullying stops in his agenda to go to war again. It seems impossible to stop this endemic bullying. Only we, the voting public, have the power to not elect them.

I was sent a letter that appeared this morning in Western Daily Press, a paper that serves the Bath, Bristol, Truro and Plymouth areas, where there is a long tradition of liberalism, a world away from the Tonbridges of the home counties. The Critical Institute’s Dr Richard House’s letter proposes that “David Cameron’s words betray inner an bully”:

“When the slick PR mask drops for a moment, we see David Cameron’s true identity revealed – that of the public-school bully who slanders those opposing his rush to war with the outrageous label “terrorist sympathiser”. Such cheap bully-boy abuse leaves Jeremy Corbyn looking like the century’s greatest living statesman.

In the Syria debate, David Cameron was repeatedly given the opportunity to apologise and draw a line under his monstrous slander; nothing less than a full apology can salvage his reputation as Prime Minister, yet he flunked it. Cameron also said in the debate, “There is honour in any vote that honourable members make”. This statement and his slanderous remark are completely incompatible, and Cameron has to tell us which one is right and which one wrong. Until he does, he is not fit to hold the highest office in the land.”

Of course, we all know that Cameron will do no such thing. He presumably feels entitled to denounce what to him is anathema: (a.) a non-aggressive or  humane strategy, known to public school boys and their great matron, Mrs Thatcher, as ‘wet’, and (b.) the Left, which means the lower classes and especially class traitors.

“How can we make sense of this extraordinary unstatesman-like behaviour?” wonders DR House. Happily he knows of our work.

“In his book Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion (Lone Arrow Press, 2014), psychohistorian Nick Duffell has shown how a bullying mentality is intrinsic to the public-school experience, and how leaders schooled in that toxic milieu then re-enact their early emotional damage throughout public life. So when Cameron is under stress, or momentarily forgets his position, out comes the bully.”

But what is the profile of the bully leader, and surely they are not all bred in English public-schools?

The bully leader is not known for reflection, given to instant reaction and seizing upon the slightest pretext to give someone else a bloody nose. Convinced that he is ‘doing the right thing,’ so that anyone disagreeing is a coward or traitor. Easily exhorted to action by others like him, he readily allies with other Wounded Leaders, and marches off loudly blowing his trumpet.

Which is what happened internationally, despite their fear of foreigners, for once, in 1914. Then, all the Wounded Leaders of Europe were in fact on the same side: they agreed to combat the rise of International Socialism by having a national bloodbath for the ‘war to end all wars’, which on examination doesn’t really reveal any cause at all. Do read Barabara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower if you are in any doubt about this – it is only a penny on Amazon!

War is what we know how to do, and the bully can easily start it. No – it is the peace that is much more difficult. But here we go again …. President Hollande is busy reinventing himself as a decisive leader and appealing to la gloire de la France, a cry which has eked disaster since the beginning of the Middle Ages, and it is our duty to follow, so we are told.

Much more subtle lessons are to be drawn from history than these two leaders seems capable of. Here is president of Le Monde Diplomatique Serge Halimi, in an article called This is a dumb war, trying to teach us some rather more recent relevant history:

“During the Gulf war in 1991, US hawks criticised George Bush Sr for not ordering the troops that had just freed Kuwait to go on to Baghdad. Four years later, chief of staff General Colin Powell justified their relative restraint: “From the geopolitical standpoint, the coalition, particularly the Arab states, never wanted Iraq invaded and dismembered … It would not contribute to the stability we want in the Middle East to have Iraq fragmented into separate Sunni, Shia, and Kurd political entities. The only way to have avoided this outcome was to have undertaken a largely US conquest and occupation off a remote nation of twenty million people. … It is naïve however, to think that if Saddam had fallen, he would necessarily have been replaced by a Jeffersonian in some sort of desert democracy where people read the Federalist Papers along with the Koran. Quite possibly, we would have wound up with a Saddam by another name. In 2003 George Bush Jr completed his father’s military project. The neocons hailed in him a new Churchill, courage, even democracy. But Powell had forgotten to read his own book, as the fears he had once expressed came true under the president he was serving as secretary of state.

Sadly, anyone with eyes open can see that the situation now is heavily compounded by prior mistakes. If it is to be solved by force involves a similar commitment as avoided in the First Gulf Invasion, and as Ken Livingstone has suggested.

And we are not even listening yet to the most informed modern historians. Pierre-Jean Luizard, author of Le Piège Daech: l’Etat islamique ou le retour de l’histoire (The Daesh trap: Islamic State and history repeated), La Découverte, Paris, 2015, says that “In reality, ISIS is only strong because its opponents are weak, and is flourishing on the ruins of institutions that are in the process of collapsing.”

Perhaps, a wise move at this point would be to really examine these words ‘weak’ and ‘strong’, to see whether our leaders masquerade weakness as strength, belittle caring or caution as weakness, and whether we can outwit these medieval robber bands by exploiting their internal weakness rather than doing what they expect? Let us try to put history and psychology together and come up with something new for once!